Latest from E-biz

Photo 226496518 / Mohd Izzuan Ros / DreamsTime
Photo_58366156 / Rawpixelimages / Dreamstime


the dot-com survivors

March 1, 2003
The dot-coms still standing look a little different than many of the companies that stood on their tiptoes vying for market attention last year. We have

The dot-coms still standing look a little different than many of the companies that stood on their tiptoes vying for market attention last year.

We have all come to expect changes in the Internet era to come fast and furious. But even the most ardent Web supporters will have to admit that the last few months have been one hairy ride. The swarm of dot-coms that flew into the electrical industry over the past two years have been thinned out by a lack of user interest, ludicrous cash-burn rates, the difficulty in teaching computer systems to speak the same language, wiggy data transmission standards and an ignorance of what makes the electrical market tick. Heck, even dot-com companies with big-league financing and an all-star management team that had a ton of experience in the electrical market have had trouble.

At press-time, which had majority backing from Rockwell Automation and additional first-round financing from 10 other electrical manufacturers, was reportedly ready to pull the plug on its digital marketplace for the industrial MRO market. A smaller player,, went dark earlier this year.

Even W.W. Grainger Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill., which has taken in millions over each of the past two years in online sales, keeps tinkering with its Web strategies. The company recently consolidated three of its online portals.

Intent on reinventing how electrical contractors and other end users order products, all too often many dot-coms have failed to ask contractors how they want to use the Web, and instead tried to force-feed them their own strange brew of a glitchy ordering process and unreliable fulfillment procedures.

At this stage of the dot-com game, it's apparent that while online ordering will someday be a dependable option that many companies will choose to offer their customers, it's still not a must-have feature for most Web portals. Indeed, many electrical contractors are much more interested in just getting dependable product information and technical data 24/7, and have no immediate interest in ordering products online.

Right now it seems that the online portals still standing are focused on one of three areas, although some overlap:

  • Project collaboration and job management

  • Purchasing of products (either full-line or surplus) through a digital marketplace

  • Search-based sites

Project collaboration and job management.

These Web sites, such as Citadon (the newly merged entity that combines Cephren and Bidcom), SupplyWave/GoControls and SmartElectrical offer users the ability to track quotes, deliveries and the progress of projects through the ordering process.

Procurement through digital marketplaces.

These companies offer end users the ability to buy products over the Web. No two sites handle online sales in exactly the same way. At the ripe old age of five, is the granddaddy of all the procurement sites. Another procurement-based dot-com that offers users a totally unique blend of business systems capability is TradePower. The TradePower digital marketplace offers contractors using the Estimation software package and distributors using Trade Service Systems business software the ability to buy and sell over the Web using product information populated by Trade Service's ec-Content product database.

Search-based sites.

These sites, such as and have a relatively simple mission compared to other Web sites: Help users find the information that they need on the electrical construction market.

The following is an update of the largest online Web portals now in operation in the electrical market. Editors have done their best to profile the sites we felt would be of interest to readers.

PROJECT COLLABORATION AND JOB MANAGEMENT, an interactive real-time network, features a personal robot (Bot) that helps contractors find bids, post bids, search for subs and locate the lowest prices on material or equipment.

As an Internet Service Provider (ISP), the site is said to be the first to offer low monthly Internet service dedicated to the construction industry. Bid Street receives construction project bids 24/7 for all trades and for all sizes of equipment. It listed more than 9,000 projects out to bid in 1999 and expects to facilitate more than $5 billion of private, commercial, residential, public entity and government business by the end of 2001.

It is the best site not only for electrical contractors, but also for all the other trades, said Chris Daskalakis, CEO of Bid Street.

The site also sponsors the virtual trade show at Construction World, which opened its doors on March 6, 2001. To check out the virtual show, visit the Web site, or .


BuildNet uses the Web to deploy BuildNet Express, a collection of Web-based job management tools that include project management, collaboration, procurement and bid management. BuildNet Express subscribers do not need to buy any software; they need only a subscription and access to the Internet with a browser. They can communicate with anyone else who has a subscription to BuildNet Express and Internet access. BuildNet Express also offers wireless connectivity, called BNX2GO, through RIM pagers and WAPphones. Cost for BuildNet Express is $29.95 per subscriber per month; plus $5.95 per active job per month and $9.95 per month for wireless connectivity.

Contractors can use BuildNet Express Project Management to create and update project schedules online and communicate and collaborate with other BuildNet Express users, including site supervisors, subcontractors and material dealers. Users can also produce changes to a master job schedule and have those changes reflected in real time in the schedules shared by other contractors connected through the Web or wireless devices. BuildNet Express also allows buying, through BuildNet Express Purchasing, a service that gives users the ability either to buy or sell online at any time from any dealer with access to the Internet, or for wireless users, the ability to view and manage the buying process from the field using BNX2GO, the BuildNet Express wireless connectivity.

BuildPoint Corp.

BuildPoint launched in May 1999 to provide specialized online bidding and procurement applications for general contractors, subcontractors and suppliers. BuildPoint's Project, Product and Financial Marketplaces allow buyers and sellers to negotiate for and procure construction products and services online, provide bid solicitation management and lead generation and offer access to financial services including insurance and lending.

With more than 38,000 registered member companies, BuildPoint is said to have the largest online community of contractors and suppliers in the construction industry. More than 20,000 contractors are currently registered on BuildPoint. Leading industry suppliers using BuildPoint include WESCO, NSI Industries and FCI Burndy Corp.

BuildPoint's online catalog offers 1.6 million items from major national manufacturers and suppliers. The catalog has specialized sections that include more than 35,000 concrete mixes and more than 1.6 million electrical, mechanical and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) transactional items.

The Web site also features a Financial Marketplace, in which general contractors can get price quotes, purchase builder's risk insurance policies and secure funding for the leasing of capital equipment such as heavy construction and modular office space. The Web-based leasing process is offered at no charge through a partnership with eLease Inc.

Launched in November 1999, San Francisco-based is a B2B marketplace and collaboration workspace for the $3.2 trillion global building design, construction and real estate management industry. Billing itself as the largest and fastest-growing online resource for building professionals, offers a set of Web-based project collaboration and bid management tools, news and information, materials and equipment directories and e-commerce services.

The site is designed to help architects, engineers, contractors, facilities managers and underwriters to work more efficiently at every stage of the design, construction and building management process.'s project-hosting system provides a central workspace that makes it easy for design and construction professionals to work together online. Team leaders can set up a personalized project site on's secure servers and add dozens of new team members in a matter of minutes. The online meeting tools enable team members to collaborate on revising drawings online and in real time.

Citadon Inc.

On Oct. 24, 2000, Bidcom Inc. and Cephren Inc. merged to form Citadon Inc. Citadon combines Bidcom's expertise in managing business processes with Cephren's expertise in project management and collaborative commerce applications. The combination of Bidcom and Cephren, both founded in 1997, yields a company with more than 30,000 subscribers, and a global portfolio of 1,200 projects worth more than $110 billion.

Citadon Inc. provides the global engineering and building industry with an open technology platform that enables the delivery of integrated services designed to reduce financial and legal risk, improve profitability and create accountability and predictability across global projects. Citadon's services help customers conduct and manage core business processes, collaborate and communicate seamlessly and capture and leverage knowledge across the extended enterprise.

The ultimate beneficiaries of this merger are the end users, who can now get all the services they need to manage their projects on one platform, said Kent Allen, senior e-commerce analyst with the Aberdeen Group. With hundreds of e-business technology suppliers offering point solutions to the engineering and building industry, many large companies within this sector have been waiting on the sidelines to see how the market for technology evolves. By bringing two very complementary technologies together in one integrated, scalable solution that stands out from the competition, Citadon will give these companies a reason to get into the game.


When company president Larry Fletcher explains the thinking behind the GoControls project management system to electrical contractors, he likes to describe his company's Web-based tool as a fax machine on steroids.

The key difference, said Fletcher, the president of the Denver-based GoControls, is that while fax machines are great for sending and receiving requests for proposals (RFPs), bills of materials and other paper-based documents, GoControls puts all of this paperwork into an electronic format so electrical contractors and electrical distributors can use it to manage their businesses more effectively.

The data that used to be written on the page of a fax can now be manipulated, he said. You can track your wins and track the orders.

Key features of this online score card for the electrical contractor include the ability to analyze their hit ratio on quotations by a wide range of variables; check on distributor performance such as delivery timeliness and pricing; and get timely analysis of purchasing trends by vendor, product type and job type.

To accomplish this, the system uses a task-based job management philosophy, Fletcher said. The main theory here is to help electrical contractors manage their business by the task instead of how it was managed before, which was by the process, he said. Guys aren't breaking their jobs down into manageable tasks. They don't know what they spend on materials on any single task. This system is going to tell them that.

The system allows electrical contractors to create a bill of materials and then track all transaction data online. This approach gives the contractor and the distributor online access to related purchasing data. Electrical contractors can use the system to automate the entire process of finding and bidding on projects and manage data such as project lists, request for information (RFI) and submittals.

The system costs electrical contractors a one-time fee of $40, and then $30 per project per month. Three free projects are included in the $40 initial fee. It will cost electrical distributors $150 per month per location. This includes five users per location; for companies that want to give more users access, it costs an additional $10 per user per location.

In October, GoControls merged with, Salt Lake City, a developer of software that integrates with distributors' back-office systems such as pricing, project quotations and shipment tracking. The two companies are now going under the SupplyWave name.


SmartContractor launched SmartElectrical, an online toolbox for electrical contractors that offers its clients the tools they need to run a successful electrical contracting business for a subscription-based fee of $50 per month.

We provide tools to electrical contractors to get better labor productivity, better materials productivity and improved communications with their partners, whether it's a customer or supplier, said Carl Albrecht, CEO of Seattle-based Smart-Contractor.

While many construction dot-coms focus on the large contractors, SmartElectrical offers Internet-based solutions to small to medium contractors with services such as task assignment, task follow-up and calendaring. To help keep contractors' documents safe, Albrecht said SmartContractor arranges the cabinets in an online file cabinet, with the files and folders backed up on servers with backup generators and 24/7 availability.

Along with project management, SmartElectrical also focuses on time and material billing. Its customers can create proposals, submit them to clients with rates, record time sheets against the projects, record materials used, apply labor rates and taxes and create autographed invoices. The site also offers e-commerce capabilities, but Albrecht said procurement is not the site's primary focus.

We're not a purchasing site, Albrecht said. We're an improve your business life site. In order to improve someone's business life, however, you've got to have purchasing and procurement.

ONLINE PURCHASING SITES, the Internet's largest provider of books, music and videos, launched a home improvement division in November 1999 after acquiring Tool Crib of the North's online and catalog sales division and hiring a Black and Decker executive as its new president.

The store first sold electrical and lighting products to both do-it-yourselfers and professional contractors, but in February 2000, launched a Tools and Hardware store specifically for professional contractors Professional contractors now comprise about 70 percent of the Tool and Hardware store's customer base.

Rich Mathews, general manager of Tools and Hardware, said offers a broad selection of more than 10,000 products in the tools and equipment area. On tool orders, will match a competitor's price, beat it by 10 percent of the difference and ship anything from a cordless drill to a table saw for a flat shipping rate of $5.99. To help professional contractors find the right tools, offers not only detailed product descriptions, but also candid reviews from editors, manufacturers and customers. Its new comparison engine also allows professionals to select a particular category, such as cordless drills, and compare the features of drills from different manufacturers. You can view all the different specifications, dimensions, features and benefits of each of these products side by side, Mathews said. This helps professionals make instant, educated decisions on what product to buy.

Professional contractors can also sell their used tools and equipment on the Marketplace.

Every single product on our Web site has its own detail page, Mathews said. Customers can now sell their used tools and equipment right from those detail pages. It's a great way to upgrade to new products or sell used equipment.

Mathews said professionals are responding well to the site.

We've been pretty excited about the response we have received both in terms of the Tool Crib of the North catalog customers as well as the new customers who have come onboard since we launched the Web site, Mathews said. We are the second fastest growing store at in the fourth quarter. has a simple mission: Offer electrical distributors and occasionally end users a source for hard-to-find items that many electrical distributors don't keep in stock.

Although, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hughes Supply Inc., Orlando, one of the largest electrical distributors in the Southeast, was founded last year as a 24/7 source of supply of slow-moving inventory for electrical distributors, industry veteran Mike Gambino, the company's president, expects that end users will one day account for 15% to 20% of sales.

UPS' Logistics division operates the company's warehouse in Louisville, Ky., and provides customers with a variety of shipping options. The company now has 15,000 stock-keeping units (SKUs) in stock in this facility and has the capacity for much more.

Four years ago, Allen Electric Supply Co., Livonia, Mich., became one of the first distributors with an online presence. President Norman Horowitz said his company recently launched as an independent, e-commerce venture.

We're looking at it from a different vantage point, he said. Most of the sites we've seen that are run by electrical distributors are designed to service their existing customers. We're going to go after customers who aren't looking at Allen Electric. In fact, we're not even presenting ourselves as Allen Electric. We're presenting ourselves as

Allen Electric opted to launch rather than simply adding an online store to its existing corporate site in order to pursue a new market.

Our objective is to tap a market of electrical professionals who are Internet savvy or inclined to buy certain items online, he said. We look at that as a new market niche.

Although electrical professionals may not buy everything they need online, some will venture out on the Web to buy specific items, he said.

I don't think it's possible to service an electrical contractor's daily needs, but as we go along, we believe that there are people who will identify certain products that they can buy remotely, Horowitz said. If they can get a good price and reasonable availability and have a pleasant shopping experience shopping on our Web site, they'll use it. That's what we're trying to do.

Founded in August 1999, and scheduled to go online with full functionality in the first quarter of 2001, is an online trading exchange and hub for electrical-good manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, OEMs, contractors and other value-adding resellers. The goal of is to streamline the entire supply chain to lower product and procurement costs, automate the purchasing process from requisition to payment, improve the buyer-supplier relationship and deliver a strong, user-friendly online marketplace.

The company is a neutral, B2B e-commerce marketplace/catalog hub that offers an online vehicle for trading among the electrical products industry supply chain participants. The site features an electronic catalog with more than 850,000 items. More than 600 companies (manufacturers, distributors and contractors) have registered with the company.

The site is said to offer electrical contractors lower product costs, lower order processing costs and the ability to efficiently research and identify the right products in less time. There is no cost to subscribers for registering with The current RFQ model requires sellers to pay a small percentage of transaction value as fees after completion of the transaction process. Because electrical contractors will most likely use for their procurement needs, they will not have to pay fees for regular transactions., Dulles, Va., after less than a year since its official launch, can boast 400,000 products on its Web site and 180,000 customers.

This marketplace for small manufacturers and contractors claims to put its customers on equal footing with large companies in purchasing, financing and shipping. Besides acting as a hub for suppliers, the company also allows customers to get loans and leases, and schedule freight delivery through its network of spin-off enterprises.

The biggest change that has occurred in the company's business plan has been in the transformation from an online distributor to an online one-source solution for small manufacturers and contractors. Our concept of providing more than just products and providing other value-added services like financing and shipping clearly is attractive to small businesses, said Angie Kim, president and chief customer officer of the company.

Kim said that the company uses a network of distributors to make up its product database.

We say who the distributor is right in the catalog so you know who you're dealing with.

Equalfooting takes about a 5 percent cut off of each transaction in order to make its profit. Kim pointed out that sales and marketing costs usually add up to around 10 percent for distributors that are dealing with smaller customers.

In the near future, plans to build on its one-source paradigm. There are plans for insurance, regulatory compliance and telecommunications spin-off services that the company will use within and without the Web site.

e-wire-cable helps its customers search, select, specify and procure wire and cable, electrical products and related services. The site's global trading exchange combines comprehensive databases of catalogs with a search engine that allows buyers and sellers to conduct business through an e-commerce solution that lowers their transaction costs, provides a wider selection of products and streamlines the procurement process. The company offers a wide range of electrical and electronic wire and cable from recognized domestic and international suppliers.

Grainger sites &

Grainger announced in January that it was consolidating and, as well as its, into a separate organization, Material Logic. Grainger expects Material Logic to become independent before the end of 2001.

With its launch in November 1999, FindMRO's mission was to solve the indirect materials problem of finding the best product solution when a source was unknown to the buyer. FindMRO accesses more than 5 million maintenance, repair and operating (MRO) products through a database of more than 12,000 suppliers. Since its launch, FindMRO has continuously added more products to its database and has continued to build relationships. Last fall it worked co-branding deals with other online providers, like SmartElectrical, to be featured on their sites. It also worked a deal with LLC, adding as a new supplier.

MROverstocks, which offers online inventory liquidation services through real-time bidding on discontinued and surplus industrial supplies, also launched in 1999. launched in the spring of 2000 to serve medium to large MRO customers. It brought together several major MRO distributors, including Cameron and Barkley and later WESCO, as partners to provide a one-stop MRO supply solution. TotalMRO's goal is to organize and take process costs out the highly fragmented MRO supply chain by bringing buyers and sellers together in one comprehensive site. The site provides customers with access to a single, networked catalog containing searchable, detailed product information, pre-negotiated prices and availability information for MRO products and services from major MRO distributors.

The new Material Logic organization will work with large national MRO distributors to create a broad digital solution. Material Logic is seeking participation from large, national MRO distributors to create an industry-backed, industry-owned entity.

Grainger Group President Donald Bielinski, who will lead the new unit, said users don't want to look in different places. We believe that as the distribution industry joins together, the result will be a win-win situation for participating distributors and customers, Bielinski said.

Material was founded by a team of industry experts to offer software and information services for the electrical construction industry.

On Feb. 1, Material announced the release of two new products: Order Express for electrical distributors and Order Express Wireless for electrical contractors. The current Material Express software allows contractors to purchase materials over the Internet from their estimating and billing software. With these two new products, customers can order directly from their distributor's Order Express Web site or from the field using Palm wireless technology.

Material President Colleen Baer said, We are very excited about the release of these two new products and believe that we now provide a complete purchasing solution for electrical contractors. Also, with Order Express we provide an easy, inexpensive first step into B2B e-commerce for distributors.

Meters and, an e-commerce initiative for Transmation Inc. that launched in June 1998, doubled its customer base in the past year. President Neil McCaw said the e-commerce site, which represents about 200 manufacturers, now offers an enhanced search engine with faster and more efficient site navigation.

We've simplified our navigation and made it more friendly to use, which was a problem with a lot of initial Web sites, McCaw said. They were not easy to navigate for the average Joe who was going to buy a piece of test equipment.

Along with improving the site's speed and appearance, has also added a manufacturer's link section as well as an improved online catalog.

McCaw said while many online product catalogs are HTML driven, his company's catalog was designed with Flash technology. Flash is a newer technology and it allows you to deliver exceptional speed in terms of pictures, McCaw said. Our site is very image-intensive because of all the products. It allows the customer to flip through a catalog with the virtual experience of having it in their hands.'s online customer service also makes shopping easy for contractors, McCaw said. By clicking on a Meterman icon, customers can interact with a sales representative. Between normal operation hours, you can click on and talk to a customer service representative via the Web site, McCaw said. It's pretty common technology now, but it wasn't when we started. The Net Reps are inside sales people that communicate via the Internet rather than a phone call or an e-mail. It's real-time correspondence.

The Net Reps can help customers find the product they need out of the thousands offered by the site. Metersandinstruments currently offers tools and instruments for electrical contractors, design engineers and datacom professionals, but plans to offer new lines of equipment for different markets in the future. We're looking into the fiber-optic market because it's booming, McCaw said., a Camarillo, Calif., factory-direct online supplier of products for the premise wiring industry, has officially registered 1,500 contractors/installers since going live less than two months ago.

We're gratified at the positive response we've received since launching, said Michael Chambon, vice president of sales and marketing. Our expanding user base validates our business model as a clicks and mortar supplier of premise wiring products. launched in December 2000, with more than 360 premise wiring products for system integrators, contractors, dealers and installers serving the premise wiring/datacom market. Currently, this market segment purchases 90 percent of their installation products from either national or local U.S. distributors. By partnering with large, ISO 9000 certified factories that manufacture name-brand premise wiring products, the company has eliminated OEM and distributor markups. They then sell directly to end-users at prices discounted at least 30 percent. plans to add an extensive inventory of related products for the CATV, electrical and security and alarm markets.

Affiliated Distributors, King of Prussia, Pa., unveiled its online integrated supply portal, SupplyFORCE, in November 1999. In addition to offering a catalog of commercial, industrial and construction supplies, the site also acts as an e-mail business center for regional local distributors serving national accounts and participating in Web commerce at the individual market account level. combines the efficiency of B2B e-commerce with the strengths of traditional, local distribution and adds national contract and uniform pricing capabilities to create a robust combination of products and services for the MRO and construction supply markets. Said to maintain North America's largest distribution network 300 independent distributors with 2,500 stocking locations's clicks and mortar solution enables customers to manage both local and national procurement requirements through integrated supply, while maintaining the benefits delivered by local, independent distributors.

The net marketplace will offer access to more than 1 million SKUs in electrical, industrial, plumbing/PVF and power transmission/bearings verticals, and up-to-the-minute industry and new product information to help professionals work more efficiently.

With the goal of simplifying procurement processes and improving business efficiency, TradePower launched its B2B digital marketplace and integrated supply chain solution for the electrical construction industry. TradePower's marketplace connects contractors and suppliers through a neutral, centralized and integrated environment that enhances information exchange and simplifies the purchase and sale of construction supplies.

The TradePower marketplace can be linked to distributors and contractors' existing desktop procurement, estimating and project management systems. This allows distributors and contractors to begin sharing information without having to overcome the challenges associated with training employees to use new methods of buying and selling construction supplies.

The two-year-old TradePower has a background that's entirely different than any of the online players. It has its roots in two companies with years of experience on the software side of the electrical construction market. The company links users of the Estimation bidding software package and Traser pricing service with distributors on the Trade Service Systems business platform. It has created a digital marketplace between contractors and distributors on its system that's populated by the ec-Content database developed by former sister company, Trade Service Corp.

The TradePower system is a desktop solution using installed software that users are familiar with and are using on a daily basis and connecting them real-time, said Mike Wentz, TradePower's vice president of sales.

SEARCH-BASED SITES offers distributors, contractors, reps, manufacturers and other electrical industry professionals a comprehensive online resource.

Electricsmarts, launched in February 2000, provides users with a buyers guide; electrical industry events calendar; new product information; and links to the Web sites of electrical distributors, manufacturers, industry associations and publications and other sources for technical information.

President Keith Peck said was developed with input from industry professionals and built to be an Internet Smart Site, which means it anticipates the information and services that users need, and then organizes it into logical, easy-to-access sections.

There's an amazing amount of valuable information on the Internet if you can find it, Peck said. Electrical industry professionals can't waste time searching the vast World Wide Web to find the resources they need. They need accurate information now. That's why we founded and brought together all the industry information resources you will need in a single Smart Site.

Electricsmarts is now live with the first of the several distinct views that it plans to offer for the different segments of its electrical audience. When users hit the home page, by clicking on contractor, distributor, MRO or engineer, they will only see the aspects of the site that will interest them most.

Contractor View is intelligently structured to think just like an electrical contractor, he said. is a search engine/directory portal for the electrical construction industry that was ranked as the No. 1 electrical directory on search engines such as Yahoo and Excite. Durand and Associates, Folsom, Calif., spent thousands of hours indexing and cataloging Web sites to offer a search engine that is specific to the electrical industry.

The site, which got more than 440,000 hits in its first year, links to 2,135 contractors nationwide. Contractors can click on a region in an image map, select a certain state and view a list of contractors in that state. Contractors can also join a NEC discussion group by clicking on Code Talk on the home page.

Durand and Associates also launched a listing of manufacturer's representatives as well as links to companies in Canada. also links to many e-commerce sites in its Electric Mall area.


1983 Personal computers hit the market.

1984 Leviton takes the first EDI order.

Mid-1980s Forty percent of electrical distributors are using PCs, according to an Electrical Wholesaling survey.

Mid-1980s The battles begin over common EDI standards for the electrical industry; bar coding becomes a reality for some early pioneers.

Early 1990s CD-ROMs amaze the industry with their enormous storage capacities.

1994-1995 The industry's first VMI programs hit the market.

1995 NAED's AnswerPRo rolls out.

1995-1997 IndustryNet has a short-lived presence as an early online marketplace.

1997 Grainger launches first online presence.

1999 Industry Data Warehouse goes live.

Early 2000 Dot-coms start swarming electrical market.

Late 2000 The first of the dot-coms start flaming out.

Sponsored Recommendations